Sippican Cottage

Close this search box.


A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

Holding Up My House and Other Projects: The Foundation

Well, I guess we have to start pedaling faster, internet-wise at least. I’m certain I could bore you all to tears for another week or so, regaling you with stories of nailing some block or other somewhere on the back of my house, or turning a screw in a busted hinge. But I’ve got other projects I can show you in tedious detail. There’s no need to beat on this horse any longer. It’s shod, if not dead. So let’s get to the denouement, shall we? How did we finish? Or more accurately for one of my projects, did we finish? You betcha.

We’re more or less done futzing with the dry rot up high, so we can work down closer to the ground. It takes longer to climb down a ladder to get to the lunch table, so we prefer to work at eye level. We finished stripping off the acres of 1/2″ exterior plywood they wasted used to cover over the back of the house. We saved it all, and we’re going to use it, trust me. And we’re not going to paint any of it that dreadful blue color, either. In the last picture, you can see the two bands of timbers that span the back of the house, which help support the house over the big door openings. Bugs and rain can get inside the house between them, so we’re going to cover them up somehow. We’re not just going to nail the siding over them. We be smarter than that, if not exactly smart in general. We’ll build a canopy roof over the doors, to protect them from the elements. I’ll wager there was something like that on the house when it was built, and it fell off, and the owners installed another ceiling fan somewhere instead of fixing it.

So we start with one of my favorite topics, a WATER TABLE. This is how you make one, in a hurry, if you feel like it. You set the table saw on 10 degrees, I think, or thereabouts, and you take a 1 x 8 pine board and set the fence at 5-1/4″, and cut the lower piece, which now has a sloping bevel on the top. Now take the cut-off strip, which had one beveled edge of course,  flip it over, set your fence for 2″, and rip it again. Now you’ve got a parallelogram piece that naturally sits on top of the big piece at the correct angle, with one beveled edge flat against the house, and the outside edge is magically plumb. You can put flashing and so forth where the top cap meets the wall, but it’s overkill. The angle of the cap makes water run down and away from the house.

In this case, we cut a rabbet on the lower edge, because we’re going to slip a roof underneath it, and we need room to do it.

The new water table is located at about the spot were the new roof-lette is going to go. We wove in new pine clapboards to mesh with the old, cedar clapboards. If you pull the nails carefully from the lower edge of the old claps, this is possible. I’m not here to tell you it’s easy, however. Oh look, there’s the ghost of another boarded up window in the wall.

Alrighty, then. The water table(s) are in place, there are patches all over the place where the wood was punky and needed to be replaced, and we’ve started painting, even. There are at least two or three things that look like and then a miracle occurs in this photo. Four barn doors have magically appeared, and one shed door, too. Hell, they’re even painted and have hardware. And some paint has materialized from some where. To save time, here’s how we managed that:

The Barn Doors:

We took apart so much stuff, and saved the material, that we could make the doors almost entirely out of the trash pile. The window glass is simply four leftover storm window panels we found in the basement basement when we moved in. They boarded up the windows, but they saved the storm window glass for some reason. The door frames are that same, insane beam we demolished in one of last week’s episodes, cut into useful stiles and rails. The solid panels in the doors are made from the 1/2″ exterior plywood that formerly covered the back of the house. We had tons of it, and used it for all sorts of things. We assembled the doors using a domino joiner to make the mortise and tenon joints, and backed them up with very long saberdrive screws. That’s a superfast way to make a utility door. What, you don’t have a domino joiner? Sucks to be you. We held the glass in the openings with a barbaric picture-frame arrangement made from the cut-off strips of the joists we pared down last week to help support the floor upstairs. We bought some strap hinges and steel handles and latches at the local Mardens. If you’re unfamiliar with Mardens, you’re obviously not from Maine. Shopping at Mardens is a Maine tradition, like bean suppers or refusing to wear your seat belt when you drive. It’s like what used to be called a five and dime, only much, much shabbier.

The Shed Door:

Under an enormous pile of leaves, discarded roofing, and other trash in the back yard, we discovered one of the original barn doors at the bottom of the heap. It was made from the same beaded board  that people once reserved for utility areas in your house, instead of on every surface in the kitchen, living, dining, bath, and bedroom areas on every house on home and garden television. This beadboard was a 7/8″ thick, and appeared to my eye to be made from chestnut, a tree species that has long since been wiped out by some sort of blight. Chestnut is (oops, was) awesome wood. Naturally rot resistant, light but strong, easy to work with regular tools, not bad to look at either. Despite being over 100 years old, and languishing for a good, long time at the bottom of a heap of debris, in a mud puddle, some of the boards were still usable. We made the sort of gothic door you see on the left out of it, and some leftover framing lumber.

The Paint:

We made the paint, at least the green paint. We’d chosen a Ben Moore color called Providence Olive for the body of our house. We chose it before we realized that Ben Moore paint had skyrocketed in price to something like 60 bucks a gallon. We didn’t have that kind of scratch, so we improvised. I went into the basement and got all kinds of leftover alkyd primer and paint I had in the basement. We mixed it all together, and it made a kind of cool pukey blue. I bought a few pints of raw sienna and raw umber colorants, the same sort of things they squirt into your paint at the store to make it a color. If you add raw sienna to pukey blue, you get a warmer green color. If you squirt in raw umber, you get a much warmer, somewhat darker green. You know, Providence Olive. There was so much raw wood on the back of the house that it should get alkyd primed, anyway, so we painted it with our redi-mix paint and called it acceptable. You couldn’t tell it from the correct color anyway, and it had so much pigment in it that it was better than standard paint. We bit the bullet and shelled out for Montgomery White for the trim and Mayflower Red for the doors. It’s the best Victorian color scheme I’ve ever come up with.

Then we took all the little bits of framing lumber left over and made cripple rafters and lookouts and some other framing members I forget the names of, if I ever knew them. We nailed them to the exposed timbers, and sheathed the mess with salvaged 1/2″ plywood, after we flipped them over to hide the blue paint from my sensitive eyes. We used it to make the soffit, underneath, too, to keep out the bugs.

The lumber yard had a deal on cedar shingle bundles, so my boy and me grabbed some and nailed on three courses on the sheathing. We slipped some wooden flashing up under the water table and over the shingles to finish it off. That little overhang shields the doors from the weather pretty well. It also allows us to open the doors a little and slip outside to shovel snow, if we need to. Before, the snow would be banked hard against the house.

Here’s the actual owner of the house, inspecting the work. You can see the new foundation wall between the doors, under the window we restored to its original place.

And of course, the inamorata of all home improvement shows, before and after photos:

We do not aspire to greatness here. We do not aim for perfection. We do not hope for much at all, only that with some effort, we will be able to achieve an effect that allows intertunnel visitors to be able to tell which image is the before, and which is the after. It’s ambition, of a sort.

[We’ll show you how we fixed other stuff on the house in future installments. If you want to read the entire saga of fixing the basement from start to finish, you can read it here.  To support this site, please recommend it to internet friends, and hit the Ko-Fi tip jar if you’re feeling flush]

6 Responses

  1. ***golf clap***

    I love everything about this project.

    Norm Abram’s got nothing on you, and the Spare Heir.

  2. Every time I “build” something with my own grubby little paws these days I’m shocked at the cost of lumber. As a result my little sketches I use as plans always reflect the smallest amount of “drop” from each piece, since cutting up new lumber is like chopping out a piece of my heart.

    I made some raised-beds for my wife’s garden, since here in NW Wyoming we don’t have actual dirt, just sand and gravel and clay. But the price of purchased ones scared me, and making them out of good lumber is just silly. Ah-hah! Landscape timbers go on sale around here every spring, and are standard 8-foot (actual 8-ft. plus a tiny bit rather than stud-length). They’re a double-dee cross section of 1-1/2″ x 3-1/2″.

    So I built the raised-beds sort of like a log cabin. How to economize? Make the width 1/3 of 8 feet…but that doesn’t come out even. Yes it does, just not in feet, when I remember that a foot is twelve inches, nicely divisible by 2, 3, 4, and 6. 32″ wide they are, and I only lost 3-1/2″ from each end when they were the short ones…long ones were full length. So, 8 foot long by 32″ wide, they kinda look like a coffin for a really tall, skinny lumberjack.

    I absolutely LOVE it when I can use scrap lumber for a project. But doing what you’ve done with this house takes it a whole step further. You’ve done the whole, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” thing to a new level.

    I bow in admiration.

  3. Hi Blackwing- Thanks for reading and leaving interesting comments.

    For a long time, if we didn’t nail it directly to the house, we’d burn any sort of scrap lumber for heat, so there was never anything left over from anything. We’d just mix it in with the firewood. Then we got a pellet stove, because I got lazy and wanted to sleep for more than three hours at a time in the winter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Thanks for commenting! Everyone's first comment is held for moderation.